Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How is the Seventh-day Adventist Church organized?
Answer: The Seventh-day Adventist Church is composed of 38,000 congregations in 209 countries. Worldwide membership in early 2006 stood at about 14 million baptized members, with about 35 million people attending services each week.
The church is organized into four structural levels in order to achieve several goals: effective local and world evangelism, worldwide unity (so all national and ethnic groups are part of one church), and the distribution of leadership among as many members and leaders a possible (so the whole church is not dominated by one person or group.)
Local churches evangelize their communities, nurture members and provide the grass-root structure for the entire church organization. Only the members of each local church have authority to decide who will be baptized and who will be members of that congregation. Even the General Conference president cannot require a congregation to add or delete someone from membership. Delegates from the local congregations elect local conference leaders.
Local Conferences coordinate the day-to-day affairs of a group of churches (often about 100), plus local schools and other institutions such as book stores, summer youth camps, retreat centers and disaster relief programs. Conference ministry specialists provide training for lay leaders in local congregations. The local conference hires, pays and supervises all local church pastors. The conference, with input from local church members, assigns the pastors to the congregations. The local conference also owns all local church properties.
Union Conferences exist for two primary reasons: to represent the local conferences in world and division-wide decision-making, and to administer for the conferences those functions that the conferences decide can be done most efficiently from one central office. Examples include religious liberty (especially representing the church to state governments), administering colleges, universities and hospitals and publishing church news magazines. The Pacific Union Conference does not duplicate any of the functions of the local conferences or congregations -- which is why there are no directors of youth ministries, Sabbath School ministries, children's ministries, community services, health and temperance ministries, personal ministries, etc., at the Pacific Union office.
The General Conference provides leadership on a global scale. Its primary functions are to maintain unity among believers around the world, and to assign resources to various areas as needed. Because of the wide variety of languages and cultures around the world the General Conference works mostly through its various Divisions (for example, the North American Division of the General Conference) to create and distribute ministry resource materials and set division-wide pay scales and financial and other policies.
This system is designed to provide for shared resources while avoiding the duplication of responsibilities. It attempts to maintain a balance between independent congregations and centralized power. Because the church is committed to serving God in the best way possible, changes in the structure are frequent, and discussions of future changes are ongoing.